Succotash Hand Pies for the Globe and Mail | Tara O'Brady

So, it's July! That seems a surprise. May was a blur of book tour, then June was gone in a blink. I'm firmly settled back at home, and scheming about east coast events. 

Thank you, again, for the cheers from all over with the launch of my cookbook. Thank you for coming out to events or comments here and elsewhere. Never did I feel I was travelling alone. But, we'll catch up on all that. First, some quick things that have been keeping me inspired, busy, and in the kitchen lately. 

I finished Jess's book, Stir last night, and I'm still thinking about it. She's out right now on book tour, and if you can catch her speaking, do.  (Sweet Amandine)

I started Tara's book today. (Tea and Cookies) 

Alabama White Barbecue Sauce, a gutsy mix of horseradish, vinegar, and mayonnaise, is a new favourite of mine with all things grilled — but I love it especially with corn. Fire-kissed is still the preference, but I'll take the kernels steamed, sautéed, or fresh off the cob. If you like elote, I've a feeling the combination will be right up your alley. It was what I served alongside the succotash my hand pies up above. Those guys are from a piece I wrote for The Globe and Mail. I've been making such pies for years, long enough that they've earned a nickname — "empbananas" — in our household. These are filled with corn and beans, then seasoned with herbs and white miso. The latter might seem unexpected, but it makes all the difference, in the best way. (The New York Times / The Globe and Mail)

As a rule, I don't love tomato soup. There are exceptions, though. Melissa Clark's is one, and Nigel Slater's recent variations make a convincing case for consideration. (101 Cookbooks / The Guardian)

Nikole has some new pieces in her shop; the striped stoneware series make me feel nostalgic for the crockery from my father's ships. These nested mixing bowls are now my go-to. The smallest for whisking sauces, the medium for tossing salads, and the large for cookie doughs. (Herriott Grace)

Cherry season has just begun, and I'm thinking of making a cobbler. (Instagram)

The Mosé. (Epicurious)

The Meaning of Mangoes by Dianne Jacob. I keep going back to it. Without summarizing her piece, I'll just say that I feel like I sometimes feed my boys certain things — mangoes, guavas, and especially custard apples when I miss Gigi — in a similar way. Not only for me to resurrect times, places, and people I've lost, but to also pass on to them some of an unshared experience. (Lucky Peach / this site)

And, some more links to mentions of Seven Spoons elsewhere. 

  • I was stoked to talk to Williams Sonoma about the history of Canada Day, and how we Canadians celebrate our country's birthday. I also shared my recipe for Butter Tart Pie. (Taste
  • David took the pickled strawberry preserves from my book and added his own touch — swapping allspice for coriander. He's a smart one. (David Lebovitz)
  • It was seriously smile-inducing to see the Roasted Grapes with Sweet Labneh get the Molly treatment. (My Name is Yeh)
  • Carolyn Jung was truly kind, and made the Hummus with White Miso. (Food Gal)
  • Yossy was one of the testers from my book, and specifically one who tested the Basic, Great, Chocolate Chip Cookies. When I had her thumbs up, I knew the recipe was right. (Apt 2 Baking Co)
  • Sarah was also generous enough to give the recipes a go for me, and she decided to write about the Twangy Blueberry Sauce. My Ben loves it on cheesecake, I like it on plain yogurt, and everyone around here likes it on sweet biscuits with cream. (The Vanilla Bean Blog)
  • Stephanie made the happiest cookies ever. That yellow! (I Am a Food Blog)
  • Sasha shared personal thoughts on the passage of time and made the Glazed Sesame Oats. (Tending the Table)
  • Getting Sam and Megan's approval on any of my recipes, but especially the hummus, is a like a gold star. (A Sweet Spoonful)
  • Sonja and Alex made my Dipper Eggs with Fried Cheese Toast soldiers look far more elegant than I ever do. (A Couple Cooks)
  • The Blueberry Snacking Cake, which Sneh adapted beautifully, is one of our regulars for picnics and road trips. (Cook Republic)
  • Lecia always knows the right thing to say. In her post she captures the feelings of summer perfectly, and then bakes the Rhubarb Raspberry Rye Crumble. (A Day That is Dessert)

Now! To hear from you! What's been going on on your end? I'm so happy to be back to this place, and can't wait to pick up from where we left off. xo and talk soon. 

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Right now, I don't think I have the words to properly convey what it was like to launch Seven Spoons the book. My book. Please bear with me, as I try.

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, Caramel and Candied Cacao Nibs | From the book, Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

The launch happened in stages. Last night, some of my nearest and dearest gathered at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. (If you've never been, please go. It is an utterly charming space, straight out of Harry Potter in the best way, all wood and warm lighting. And Ben is even better.) I had to make a speech. I did so with my sons and nephews nearby — they stole the show. And, even though I had the distinct sensation of my windpipe vibrating while I spoke, looking out onto that room of people, shaking or not, I felt exceptionally lucky.

We had cheese from St. Lawrence Market with pickled strawberries, charcuterie, and chocolate chip cookies. There were a few rolls of Instax film (evidence, here), and bubbles and oysters around the corner to end the night with Nikole, Michael, and Julia. There again, that lucky feeling. 

Today was a blur; interviews and tastings, and a lot of excitement. A highlight was when some readers took time out of their day to come and say hello. It is because of all of your that I have this opportunity in the first place. So, to share this day with you feels right.

Very quickly, there's something else to share — a recipe from the book, and the one I may crave the most. It's my Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, swirled with espresso caramel and topped with candied cacao nibs. It is no secret that I love ice cream. I announced the book with one, so launching it with another lines up nicely. I'm also quite a fan of coffee. Thus, putting them together was inevitable, and condensed milk in the mixture sealed the deal. I describe it in detail below.

For now I'll sign off, with gratitude. Here's to you, with ice cream. 

 

By the by, a few people and places have written about Seven Spoons. If you'd like to read their thoughts, here they are:

  • I spent a day cooking with Chris Nutall-Smith, talking about the book, butter tarts, and inspiration, while sipping on some Palomas. It was a good time. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Deb declared the Mushrooms and Greens on Toast a "one-pan miracle" and I don't think I could hope for higher praise. (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Heidi makes the case for green smoothies, with my Default Smoothie with kale, pineapple, and nut butter to make her point. (101 Cookbooks)
  • Sara, a person I consider an expert on Huevos Rancheros, gave her stamp of approval to my Huevos a la Plaza de Mercado, and I couldn't be more chuffed. (Sprouted Kitchen)
  • I was so happy to once again appear on Design*Sponge's "In the Kitchen With ..." series, this time with my Esquites and Yellow Tomato Gazpacho. Sincere thanks to Grace and Kristina. (Design*Sponge)
  • Food52 asked me to write about the inspiration behind the book, and I was honoured to oblige. (Food52)
  • Epicurious calls my Chicken with a Punchy relish a knockout, in a pun I appreciate. (Epicurious)
  • Ashley made the Roast Chicken with a Punchy Relish, and used lentils as the base. Brilliant. (Not Without Salt)
  • Shauna and Danny prepared a gluten-free feast from the book, including their adaptation of the Bee-stung Fried Chicken, and naan. (Gluten-free Girl and the Chef)
  • Olga made the Lentil Kofta Curry, and some thoughtful words about community. (Sassy Radish)
  • Julie's Bee-Stung Fried Chicken (+ her fritters!) look brilliant. (Dinner with Julie)
  • ... and Julie invited me to her other site to talk music and dinner parties.As an aside, have you seen the documentary It Might Get LoudI found it fascinating. (Rolling Spoon)
  • Vy posted a detailed and thoughtful look at a whole collection of recipes. (Beyond Sweet and Savoury)
  • Shelley also discussed the book as a whole, and then featured the Fattoush with Fava Beans and Labneh. (Cookbooks 365)
  • My publishers invited some new-to-me bloggers to the launch last night, and I am so glad they did! Nikki and Christine were firecrackers. So fun. (Nikki the Knack and Padfoot's Library)

 

VIETNAMESE COFFEE ICE CREAM 

Indians make something they call espresso, which I've talked about before, but it’s unlike any espresso you’d see in Italy; it’s actually closer to a Greek frappé, a bold brew of instant coffee whipped with an enthusiastic amount of sugar, and then combined with hot water and milk. The slurry magically blends, then splits, with a layer of thick foam above a rich, creamy elixir below.

I’ve been a longtime fan of that coffee, so when I was first introduced the Vietnamese version, a drink with very much the same uncompromising intensity, the same weighty, toasted, caramel flavor, this time tempered with sweetened condensed milk, I was lost. When I decided to freeze it, well then things got even better.

This is my full-stop favorite ice cream, both to make, and to eat. It is brazenly prepared without a traditional custard base, which isn’t missed in the least, and skipping that step makes it quick work to pull together. A voluptuous mix of evaporated milks and cream gets infused with ground coffee, then chilled, churned and swirled with caramel. Easy peasy, that's that, and you’re left with an ice cream worthy of any and all accolades. Have a spoon at the ready.

Makes about 1 quart

 

Ingredients

  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin evaporated milk
  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup heavy (35%) cream
  • 2 ounce (57 g) coffee beans, ground, see note
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • A good pinch of salt

To Serve or Swirl

  • Espresso caramel and/or Candied Cocao Nibs, recipes follow

Method

Combine all the ice cream ingredients in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture begins to steam. Remove from the heat and leave to steep for 20 minutes.

Using a fine-meshed sieve, or a standard sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, strain the mixture into a bowl. Cover and chill for 3 hours, but preferably overnight. Freeze the base according to your ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s directions.

Spoon 1/3 of the ice cream into a storage container. Smooth the top, and pour over a few tablespoons of caramel in long stripes. With the tip of a knife, lightly swirl the caramel into the ice cream. Layer in half of the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers two more times, ending with a drizzle of caramel. There will be caramel left over. Set this aside. Cover the ice cream and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Serve as is, or in a sugar cone, or scattered with candied cacao nibs. Then, dive in.

Note: The coffee beans should be medium ground. Café Du Monde French Roast Chicory is the traditional choice for the hot preparation that inspired this cold one. For a milder, rounded flavor, use 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder or 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder instead of ground beans.

Chocolate fudge can take the place of the caramel.

Masala Chai variation: Replace the coffee with 2 tablespoons black tea such as Darjeeling, a short cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom and 3 peppercorns. Omit the espresso in the caramel, or omit the swirl entirely.

 

ESPRESSO CARAMEL

Makes about 2/3 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (106 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml)  heavy cream
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely-ground espresso beans or espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high, heat the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt, stirring until the butter is melted. Pour in heavy cream and espresso beans. Bring to a boil, whisking until smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer, undisturbed, for 1 minute longer. Remove from the stove and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. If making ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until needed, then rewarm gently before using.

Note: Any leftover caramel can be used on pound cake, or plain ice cream, or stirred into a milkshake or warm milk. Those sips can be made all the more warming with a share of whisky.

 

CANDIED CACAO NIBS

Makes approximately 1/2 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (43 g) cacao nibs
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter

Method

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, warm the sugar for a minute, without stirring. Scatter the cacao nibs over the sugar, and leave the pan undisturbed until the sugar begins to melt in spots. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, quickly stir the cacao nibs into the liquid sugar, incorporating any unmelted sugar as you go. Once most of the sugar has coated the nibs, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the butter. Immediately scrape the cacao nibs onto the prepared baking sheet, pressing them into an even layer with the back of the spoon or spatula. Allow to cool.

Break the cacao nibs into tiny clusters by hand. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

I wrote about Sara Forte's last book, her first book, right after my grandmother passed away. That sounds a morbid opening, but I don't mean it to be. In truth, the association offers its own kind of comfort. Sara's food is very much a means of taking good care of yourself, and a means to do so for those you love. My association of welcome and Sara is indelible, and I think that may be the same for a lot of you, too. 

Sara's new book with photography by her husband Hugh, Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon, is just memorable as that first, and once again arrived at a time when my grandmother was on my mind. 

Sara Forte's Baked Eggs with Barely Creamed Greens and Mustardy Bread | Tara O'Brady

With my own book coming out in 12 days (12 days!!) the reality has settled in. It has landed on my shoulders not as weight, but as something else, like the static shocks you get from rubbing your feet on the carpet. It feels like a current buzzing between my shoulder blades.

And, with each day closer, I wonder more and more often about what my grandmother would think of the book. 

Gigi had a tendency to grant praise partnered with just enough criticism that the compliment didn't go to your head. While it may have come across as feisty, or perhaps sharp of her to say so, the critique kept things in perspective. And, there was the added value of that.

Once, upon reading an article I'd written, she told it was very good, but maybe too serious. It would benefit from a joke. Preferably a dirty one.

Sara Forte's Baked Eggs with Barely Creamed Greens and Mustardy Bread | Photo by Tara O'Brady

In my view, Sara's book, and her work in general, offers both deliciousness and perspective in balance. Interwoven with her inventive combinations of texture and taste is subtle encouragement and simple advice on making sensible, responsible choices for our health and environment. Beauty and flavour are not sacrificed in her commitment to whole food and eating healthfully, but rather highlighted by it, as she creates meals without anything to get in the way of the natural gorgeousness of her ingredients.

The book is centred around what Sara calls "bowl food", an inherently soul-satisfying concept. That style of serving, with everything nudged up close in a vessel with nothing overwrought in its presentation or eating, is actually my favourite sort of meal. I like how you can gather up whatever components in your ideal proportion and how, often, it's a one-utensil, no-cutting-required kind of ease of mealtime. (Especially helpful for when you're feeding kids, or particularly tired adults. Or particularly tired adults attempting to feed children.)

Sara fills her bowls with all manner of grains, pulses, and vegetables, with lean proteins included now and again. She has morning to night sorted, including dessert. One day for lunch I made her Baked Eggs with Barely Creamed Greens and Mustardy Bread — it was supposed to be bread "crumbs" but I have an affection for a fatty-fat chunk of bread, so made rustic croutons instead. Some were small about a half-inch or so, others big, for double-dunking into the egg. The mustard on those toasty cubes is a winner, along with their bit of salt. The vinegar and assertive seasoning splits the richness of the cream, yolk, and cheese in the bowl. I used kale for my greens and they were perfectly silky but not obscenely rich. I've made her ribboned salad with maple-glazed tofu, am making her leek and pea soup for a friend today, and have plans for her soaked oats and Eton mess once the local berries arrive. (Please tell me that spring is coming. Today it's freezing rain. Again.) 

Bowl and Spoon is the perfect companion to Sara's first book, and very much the extension of what she started there. It's Sara through-and-through, which may be all I need to say.

 

Before we get to the recipe, a bit of housekeeping. First off, thank you to those of you who have preordered my book! For a moment there it was at #1 on two categories on Amazon, and I almost fell out of my chair. Seriously. You guys are too great. It has been such a treat to see folks cooking from the preorder recipe bundle, and I hope you're loving the brownies. (Please tag me when you share images or thoughts — @taraobrady on all social media — or use the tag #sevenspoonscookbook, if you can! I don't want to miss any.)

That said, the two recipes exclusive to the bundle (there are also five recipes from the book, including flaky biscuits!), are just that — only available with preorders. So if the one bowl, crackly-topped, gluten free brownies or garlicy, herby, chickpea yogurt soup are recipes you'd like, that's the way to get them. (The link to claim your recipe pack are on the sidebar.)

There's more! Penguin Random House of Canada has posted their own preview, with not only except of some of the book's text, but also my Bee Stung Fried Chicken with Korean gochujang honey to finish, and my method for Avocado Toast. Take a look, here. 

Also, I've started adding events to the News + Events section on the top bar. There will be more there soon!

Finally, for I truly appreciate all the feedback on what sort of information you'd hope to see in regards to writing a book, and how the opportunity came about for me. I'm working on the posts, and so keep any such suggestions coming! Until then, Heidi shared the most beautiful look at her proposal process, and it is truly inspiring. 

That's it for now. I want to pop in once more before the book comes out, so I'll see you then.

 

BAKED EGGS WITH BARELY CREAMED GREENS AND MUSTARDY BREAD 

"This started as a Bon Appétit recipe that got repurposed for the blog, and now has made its way into bowl format for this book. I am always looking for everyday breakfast that can be put together relatively quickly, especially with eggs. I bake these in small shallow baking dishes, but a large ramekin or cast-iron pan works great as well. I assume two eggs per person and serve it with fruit and toast for dipping in the yolks.

The French, who more beautifully call baked eggs oafs en cocotte, often use a bain-marie for ideal egg texture, but I find the following approach just as suitable. "

— From Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon by Sara Forte (Ten Speed Press, 2015)

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoons coarse ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh torn bread, in bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (or spinach, kale, or a mix), stemmed and coarsely chopped (about 9 cups chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for the pans
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 8 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup grated Gruyère
  • Few sprigs fresh thyme, for garnish
  • Chopped freshly parsley, for garnish

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack in the upper third. Wipe the insides of four gratin dishes or large ramekins with butter and set on a baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix together the coarse ground mustard, 1 tablespoon of the Dijon mustard, the olive oil, and salt. Add the bread crumbs and toss to coat. Spread the on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until crispy. Set the bread crumbs aside, but leave the oven on.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add just enough water to cover the bottom; add the greens. Toss until wilted down, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a strainer and press out the excess liquid. You should have about 2 heaping cups greens. Wipe out the skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, about 1 minutes. Add the greens, the remaining tablespoon of Dijon mustard, the cream, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until warmed through and just thickened, about 3 minutes.

Divide the greens between the prepared dishes and bake on the sheet in the upper third of the oven for 8 minutes. Remove sheet and carefully break two eggs onto the greens in each dish. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of pepper and a few tablespoons of the Gruyère and bake for 6 minutes, until the whites are just cooked but the yolks still runny. Let them sit for a minute to settle. Garnish with the bread crumbs, thyme, and parsley. 

 

NOTES FROM TARA:

  • The well-prepared cook I am, I was out of parsley and thyme, so had to leave them off. I added dried chile flakes for some extra colour and because I have an addiction to spice with eggs and cheese.

Hey guys. I'm having trouble finding the start that seems right. I've tried, then deleted the attempt, then tried again, then got a drink, put in a load of laundry, and tried again. And deleted again. So let's take a deep breath and jump in. 

Seven Spoons cookbook first look + preview recipe bundle | Tara O'Brady

There. Much easier. My cookbook, Seven Spoons: My Favourite Recipes for Any and Every Day, comes out slightly-less-than two months from now. Specifically on April 21, 2015, which happens to be my birthday and nine days before the tenth anniversary of this site. The publishers, Ten Speed Press in the US and Appetite by Random House here at home, didn't know the significance of the date when they chose it, and the coincidence feels like kismet.

russeted apples and book preview recipe bundle!  | Tara O'Brady

Today I was going to tell you about how I came to write a book in the first place, but then I thought it might be nicer to work in reverse. Start with the book itself, and go backwards from there. Maybe I'll split it up into a few posts — one with how this all happened, and another on how I actually wrote the book and organized my work, if that sounds good to you. Then we can keep the conversation going. 

ploughman's lunch + book preview recipe bundle! | Tara O'Brady

As I said what feels ages ago, the cookbook was an opportunity to gather up the favourite recipes of my family and our friends, and finally nail down some of those go-to dishes that have thus far been without any recipe at all. I ended up at over 100 of them — I think the count is 114 — with more than 80 photos to match. I shot the photography in my home, around the region where I live, and up north in Muskoka, on days spread out over the year I took to write. So you'll see how the light changes with the seasons, and get an idea of how those plates looked on our table. (If you'd like, I can cover my approach to the photography in one of those posts I'll get on planning.)

I aimed to make a book that would be as useful on special occasions as it was in the day-to-day, whether craving a crackling plate of fried chicken burnished with gochuchang-laced honey, or some invigorating quick-pickled vegetables and herbed labneh bundled up in collard greens, or an icy sip in the form of a Paloma with chaat masala salt. There are recipes from my childhood (including a primer on dal), and Sean's too — I am thrilled about how the Walnut Cherry Butter Tart Pie turned out, based on his maternal grandmother's recipe —  as well as dishes we have come to call our own in recent years (baked colcannon, corn gazpacho, and sausage rolls with nuoc cham). While it does have vegetarian, vegan, whole-grain, gluten-free, and many other diet- and allergen- friendly recipes, the book has no fidelity to one set way of eating. It does have an overarching commitment to eating in season, and as locally as possible, with whole foods the usual. The collection is varied, suiting the way I eat, and hopefully you do too.

The book is simply organized to follow a day's worth of meals. It has Breakfast, Lunch, Soups, Snacks and Starters, then Suppers, Vegetables and Sides, followed by Treats, Sweets and Sips, and a chapter of Staples. 

cheesy mushrooms and greens + book preview recipe bundle | Tara O'Brady

In Seven Spoons the book, just like on this site, the stories of those dishes are included too. That said, a few had to be trimmed, even after we added pages to cram in as much as possible. I wanted to include those somewhere, and here seemed a good place. 

On the Pickled Strawberries (pictured above with chicken liver pâté as part of a ploughman's lunch): The first time I had pickled strawberries was in New York City, in a restaurant at the edge of Central Park. The place was packed, filled with people and noise, and a fierce windstorm was kicking up outside. Still, the strawberries pulled attention. Luminously scarlet, lacquered in juice, they were berries from Oz, daintily presented on top of succulent slices of fresh mozzarella. The supple cheek of sharp fruit against the cool, creamy blandness was startling. Refreshing and silky, each soured morsel had me wanting another.

On the Bostocks (I love bostocks): Nikole introduced me to bostocks. We were once waiting to cross at a busy corner in Toronto — Yonge at Roxborough Street East, if you happen to know the neighborhood — when she asked a question I couldn’t quite hear over the cars. It sounded like, "Have you ever had a bus stop?" Not understanding, I don't think I replied either way. She then led a block further down Yonge Street, to Patachou Patisserie (sadly, now shuttered).

In the front window, between apple turnovers and showy cinnamon swirls, was a cluster of plain, brown, icing sugar-dusted pucks labeled bostocks.

Those squat pastries proved remarkable at first bite. 

One Pot Brownies + book preview recipe bundle!  | Tara O'Brady

The book is available for pre-order, for those interested. As a special thanks, anyone who orders early gets a bundle of recipes right away, starting today. (Those who have already ordered get one, too!) There are five recipes from the book, including the North-Indian style baked eggs that some folks asked about, along with two exclusive to the package. These brownies are one of those recipes, with a super easy, fudge caramel glaze that takes them to fully over the top, rather than just slightly so. Click this link to claim your PDF; simply enter your information and follow the instructions. Then you're off to the races. Or the kitchen, as it were.

I'll sign off for now. I'm working with both my publishers to plan events around the book's launch — so if you'd like a visit do let me know! We'll also take the locations of pre-orders into account, so that kindness will be represented. Once confirmed, those dates and information will be added to the NEWS section on top menu bar.

Well then. This feels like a lot, yet feels really great. Thank you for reading this far, and for so long.

xo and happy days.

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It is difficult for me to draw a line between Ashley Rodriguez my friend, and her cookbook Date Night In. If looking for a straight up review of her work, my apologies, but there isn't one here.

That said, while I don't remember how or when we met, the Ashley I am lucky enough to have come to know over boozy drinks, shared sandwiches and seagulls, early morning walks for (not tomato soup-ish) coffee, phone calls, and a road trip covering a section of the west coast of this continent, that Ashley is the same Ashley her readers find on her site, and in her book.

So, if you'd like to know about her, and her grapefruit cake, then please read on.

Ashley is one to bring you a (homemade) doughnut before dinner. And who has a weekly doughnut tradition with her three spitfire kids. She studied art, takes photographs, and appreciates a well-baked egg. She's sassy and used to drive a convertible. She likes fried chicken, ginger beer, and ice cream. Ashley can pull of a wide-brimmed felt hat with aplomb and a tote that holds everything from notebooks to this really amazing chunky bracelet, from a package of her famous cookie mix to a tube of cherry red lipgloss. There's the magic of Mary Poppins in this girl, hidden under that blonde hair and behind her warm smile. 

She is fiercely committed to her family and her husband. She is an attentive mother to Baron, Roman, and Ivy, while still active and present in her partnership with Gabe. She also maintains time alone, or with her friends, and considers how those experiences help her in her life at home. It is not a balance that is easy, so it only made sense that Ashley would write about how exactly she does it all, including those intimate moments difficulties and those of reward. 

I think, as a culture, we are nervous to talk about the work that goes into our relationships — romantic or otherwise — it is seen as a shortcoming. Ashley disagrees. In her book, an extension of a wildly-popular series on her blog, she is as generously candid as she is in conversation. Her earnest, heartfelt intention is evident on every page. Date Night In isn't just about food; it is about the way she and Gabe come to the table to come together.

By the by, on that table, and in this book, you will find Braised Pork Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Red Onion, German Pretzel Sandwiches, Chanterelle Pot Pie, and Nutella Semifreddo, among other things.

Ashley's Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate | Tara O'Brady

One of the other things is a Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate. It's part of a menu called Somewhere in Italy, and offered alongside Pasta e Fagioli, Crostini with Ricotta, Proscuitto and Peas, and an Aperol Spritz. It is a straighforward quick bread, with a tight crumb and the qualities of both a muffin and a cake. The scent of the batter reminded me of those chocolate oranges from the holidays — the one you smack into segments — yet decidedly more refined, with the grapefruit's sharper note heightening that floral aspect of the olive oil and the darkness of the chocolate. It cuts just so. To continue the silver screen theme, it's Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina after she comes back from Paris wearing that Givenchy dress by the tennis court. In other words, like Ashley and the work she does, a fit that's practically perfect in every way. 

 

GRAPEFRUIT + OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE

When baking with olive oil, I recommend one that is more grassy and floral than peppery.

— From Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish your Relationship by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014) 

Makes a 9-inch loaf cake, serving 8 to 10

 

INGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest, divided
  • 1/2 cup / 125 g whole-milk plain yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup / 160 ml best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup / 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups /235 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 ounces / 110 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  •  1 1/2 cups / 170 g confectioners sugar, see note below
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Add 1/2 cup / 120 ml grapefruit juice to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the juice by half. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, yogurt, eggs, olive oil, and reduced grapefruit juice and whisk to mix well. 

In a large bowl, add the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is well blended. Stir in the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the hot oven. Bake until the cake is deeply brown and set and springs back gently when pressed, 50 to 55 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the glaze. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon grapefruit zest with the remaining 1/4 cup  / 60 ml grapefruit juice. Gently, in order to prevent a confectioners sugar snowstorm, stir in the confectioners sugar and continue to stir until well mixed. 

Let the cake cook in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

When cooled to room temperature, place the cake on a serving platter and drizzle with half the glaze. Reserve the rest of the glare for serving along with the sliced cake. Serve with crème farce, if desired. The cake can be made 1 day in advance.

NOTES FROM TARA:

If, by any chance, you are new to olive oil in sweet baking, you may want to cut some of the oil with an equal amount of something more neutral — say grapeseed or canola.

I made my cakes in miniature, for ease of sharing. I divided the batter between three 5 1/2-by-3-inch loaf pans and baked them for about 30 minutes, or until deeply golden as per Ashley's instruction — the edges were coming away from the sides of the pans, and a cake tester inserted into the centre of each cake came away clean. 

The recipient of one of the cakes has a weakness for marmalade-ish glazes, and so that is reflected in the photos. To make, combine the 1/4 cup grapefruit juice that had been set aside for the glaze with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon marmalade in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stirring, bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Remove from the heat and cool to warm before using.

 

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The holidays are over. The boys are back to school. It's the first morning that I've been alone since mid-December. I forgot that I had wanted to wash their snow pants before today, until late last night. And packing lunches took more concentration than usual. Somehow the winter re-entry to the regular routine is always rough one, jarring and rocky, and with that deep-inside-felt frenzy of scrambling to keep pace.

Even in September, after that long, lazy stupor of summer, the return to routine is smoother. You ease into it. Maybe it's because with the sunshine and warmth in the evenings, that summer feeling hangs on.

Now, instead of another tour around the neighbourhood before dinner, and twilight lounging on the back deck after, the night comes sudden and shivering — before Sean gets home, and before the table is even laid. The Christmas tree has an appointment with the curb for pickup, and the strings of lights are packed away with all the sparkles.

A friend said yesterday that it is in our nature to hibernate, an instinct we spend these months fighting against, and I think she's right. 

But, we've rounded a corner. Now we can check off the start of winter term to the list with the winter solstice and a new calendar year. We marked that last one with particular fanfare, with sleeping in, followed by kougin-amann. 

Started the night before, the year before actually, the cakes rose overnight in the fridge. There's a magic in recipes that take care of themselves, as if the shoemaker's elves were sent to ease the arrival of this fresh set of days. One batch satisfied our needs, with enough to spare to pack up for pals who were passing through town on New Year's Day.

kouign-amann | Tara O'Brady

I don't think I'm unique in the mixed reaction to the new year. If I'm honest, when I consider the year that passed, I'm not sure where I stand on the subject. It was a lot of things, the year that one of my sons fell in love with swimming and roller coasters, and the other discovered an affinity for building things (his fingers went from chubby-little-guy-glorious to nimble, kid fingers overnight). It is the year my husband and I found out movies that don't make our kids cry might make us cry instead (ahem).  It will always be the year I finished my first book. Then one when we ripped out the carpets and we travelled more. It was a year of good news, and beginning, and discoveries. Of dance parties, Qwirkle, and a really excellent summer for tomatoes. Of friends getting engaged, others married, and others having children. Of them opening shows, publishing work, and starting businesses. But was also a year of waiting rooms. And stitches. There were long talks, then longer nights. Goodbyes. And some months when the losses outweighed any gains. 

It was a year of choosing and doing; of at times retreating, and others making it through.

Another friend remarked, last spring maybe, as he was experiencing his own stress-filled run, that maybe more and more days are like this because we are getting to be of a certain age. I think he might be right. 

And so, I know there's a melancholy for what has passed, along with a nervousness for what is ahead. I imagine the feeling as music box with the key wound too tight, bundled beneath my ribs somewhere.

There's an inherent energy in the coil of the mechanism. That vital potential momentum. That which has us moving forward towards those brighter days.

We're getting almost a full minute more sunlight in with each evening, and starting January 7th, we'll start making some gains in the morning on top of that. (By the way, all that solstice and equinox and sunrise and sunset time stuff is rather fascinating. Never have I thought so much about the angle of the Earth on its axis.)

kouign amann | Tara O'Brady

Fascinating in its own way, and a beacon on the 1st, was the kouign-amann. It is a Breton pastry whose name translates to "butter cake", and the only way I think to give a sense of it is as a croissant crossed with brioche, under the influence of a sugar bun. The dough is laminated, which is to say, stacked upon itself with a cushion of butter in between each layer. On the last fold a generous amount of sugar is incorporated into the pattern, then a final coat is added to each side. A kougin-amann can be baked as a single round, or cut into squares and tucked into ring moulds or muffin tin (tucking the points of the squares to the centre of the round creates that fluted edge and crenelated pattern on top). From the oven, a kougin-amann will emerge bubbling and burnished, and while the impulse is to feast immediately, they require a rest.

After a few minutes, what had been molten butterscotch where the pastry meets the pan cools to encrust the cake, and the fluffy, steaming interior sets into delineated strata. So, upon eating, that sugar outside fractures crunchily, giving way to a tender, delicate centre. 

Thus you have the story of how our year started with butter and sugar. But also with cooking and sharing a meal with some of those I love most. While there is an uncertainty in how the year will end, I'm holding on to how we started. That, I'd like to keep going all the way through. 

I wish you all golden days ahead. xo

 

KOUIGN-AMANN

Recipe by Claire Saffitz, as published in Bon Appétit, April 2014. (Mostly written as published, with a few changes to suit this site's formatting.) Making a laminated dough isn't exactly difficult — it's all about rolling and folding —  but it does require attention and care. And time. Lots of time, most of which is spent waiting for the dough to chill. What I recommend is start making the dough in the late afternoon. By bedtime, you should be ready to form the kouign-amann. Pop them in the fridge, covered, and then come back in the morning for baking.

Makes 12

FOR THE DOUGH

  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) European-style butter (at least 82% fat), melted, slightly cooled, plus more for bowl
  • 1 tablespoon (10 g) active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons (40 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt
  • 3 cups (400 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

FOR THE BUTTER BLOCK

  • 12 oz. (340 g) chilled unsalted European-style butter (at least 82% fat), cut into pieces
  • ½ cup (100 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) kosher salt

TO ASSEMBLE

  • All-purpose flour, for dusting
  • ¾ cup (150 g) sugar, divided
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray or some more melted butter for brushing the tin

 

METHOD

Make the dough. Brush a large bowl with butter. Whisk yeast and ¼ cup very warm water (110°–115°) in another large bowl to dissolve. Let stand until yeast starts to foam, about 5 minutes. Add sugar, salt, 3 cups flour, 2 Tbsp. butter, and ¾ cup cold water. Mix until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour as needed, until dough is supple, soft, and slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.

Place dough in prepared bowl and turn to coat with butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and let dough rise until doubled in size, 1–1½ hours. (This process of resting and rising is known as proofing.) Punch down dough and knead lightly a few times inside bowl. Cover again with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until dough is again doubled in size, 45–60 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 6x6” square. Wrap in plastic and chill in freezer until dough is very firm but not frozen, 30–35 minutes. (Heads up: You’ll want it to be about as firm as the chilled butter block.)

Now make the butter block. Beat butter, sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on low speed just until homogeneous and waxy-looking, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter mixture onto a large sheet of parchment. Shape into a 12x6” rectangle ¼” thick.

Neatly wrap up butter, pressing out air. Roll packet gently with a rolling pin to push butter into corners and create an evenly thick rectangle. Chill in refrigerator until firm but pliable, 25–30 minutes.

To assemble the pastries, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 19x7” rectangle (a bit wider and about 50 percent longer than the butter block). Place butter block on upper two-thirds of dough, leaving a thin border along top and sides. Fold dough like a letter: Bring lower third of dough up and over lower half of butter. Then fold exposed upper half of butter and dough over lower half (butter should bend, not break). Press edges of dough to seal, enclosing butter.

Rotate dough package 90° counterclockwise so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a 24x8” rectangle about ⅜” thick.

Fold rectangle into thirds like a letter (same as before), bringing lower third up, then upper third down (this completes the first turn).

Dust dough lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and chill in freezer until firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator; continue to chill until very firm, about 1 hour longer. (Freezing dough first cuts down on chilling time.)

Place dough on surface so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a 24x8” rectangle, about ⅜” thick. Fold into thirds (same way as before), rotate 90° counterclockwise so flap opening is on your right, and roll out again to a 24x8” rectangle.

Sprinkle surface of dough with 2 Tbsp. sugar; fold into thirds. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and chill in freezer until firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator; continue to chill until very firm, about 1 hour longer.

Place dough on surface so flap opening is on your right. Roll out dough, dusting with flour as needed, to a rectangle slightly larger than 16x12”. Trim to 16x12”. Cut into 12 squares (you’ll want a 4x3 grid). Brush excess flour from dough and surface.

Lightly coat muffin cups with nonstick spray. Sprinkle squares with a total of ¼ cup sugar, dividing evenly, and press gently to adhere. Turn over and repeat with another ¼ cup sugar, pressing gently to adhere. Shake off excess. Lift corners of each square and press into the center. Place each in a muffin cup. Wrap pans with plastic and chill in refrigerator at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours (dough will be puffed with slightly separated layers).

Preheat oven to 375°. Unwrap pans and sprinkle kouign-amann with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar, dividing evenly. Bake until pastry is golden brown all over and sugar is deeply caramelized, 25–30 minutes (make sure to bake pastries while dough is still cold). Immediately remove from pan and transfer to a wire rack; let cool. 

NOTE (FROM TARA): 

  • As seen in the pictures, I chose to make slightly smaller pastries and used a standard muffin tin. I rolled the dough larger than suggested and then cut it into roughly 3-inch squares, yielding 18. Since my measurement and timing hasn't been tested more than once, I'd advise following the recipe as written rather than my example. 
  • Placing the pans on parchment-lined baking sheets will catch any butter overflow while baking.
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